Joel Eriksson Ek (on ice) celebrates with teammates
With an incredibly deep roster of forwards, the Swedes dispatched Slovakia with relative ease. But the world junior semifinal is a different beast
The score was 8-3 and if anything, that result might not give Sweden full marks for how they thrashed Slovakia in the quarterfinal. For most of the game, the Tre Kronor buzzed their European counterparts, with New York Rangers goalie prospect Adam Huska keeping things respectable for Slovakia early on.
No doubt this Swedish team is excellent. They haven't lost a game yet, but they also haven't played a good team - no other squad in their group ended pool play with a positive goal differential. So the only question for a team with incredible depth up front, difference-makers on defense and two hot goalies is whether Sweden is ready for a tough game.
The Swedes kinda helped themselves by allowing Slovakia back into the quarterfinal late in the second period and early in the third.
"It was unnecessary, because we had the game 5-0 and we relaxed a bit," said 2017 draft prospect Elias Pettersson. "Then it was a game again. We'll learn from that and play 60 minutes (next time), because hockey goes fast."
So yeah; adversity. I wouldn't advise giving up three goals in a row in any game, but for a team that needed a bit of a scare, this might have been for the best in the long run. Though in their minds, the Swedes don't think they've been taking a stroll through Candyland.
"We've had some tough games," said captain Joel Eriksson Ek. "Today we let them score three in a row on us. Switzerland was tough too, so we've been tested. But for sure the next game is going to be tougher."
Eriksson Ek, the Minnesota Wild first-rounder, has been a big factor so far, as have many of the other forwards. Not only has the captain's line with Alex Nylander (BUF) and Carl Grundstrom (TOR) been hot (combined they have 24 points through five games), but the team's depth is daunting. Against Slovakia, for example, fourth liner Tim Soderlund was crucial with two goals, while 13th forward Fredrik Karlstrom (DAL) chipped in another. With everyone going there is no rest against this squad.
"They play really fast," Huska said. "Very hard to play against."
Pre-tournament, Sweden was my gold-medal favorite and it's hard to think of a reason to change that. Really, the only objection will be that the level of competition from here on out will skyrocket - but it's not their fault that Finland was terrible this year. The Swedes could only beat the teams on their schedule, after all. But getting a strong result is important for the squad, especially since Sweden has finished fourth at the world juniors the past two years. In Toronto, they should have beaten Slovakia for bronze (Denis Godla wasn't that good in net; deal with it) and in Finland they could have at least tried a bit harder against the Americans.
Eriksson Ek was there last year and he promises not to forget his history lessons.
“I remember the feeling last year," he said. "I don’t want to have that feeling again. I hope we can step up a bit more and win the hockey games.”